11

I have cousins who both have children. Whenever we see each other, my cousins always told their children to "go kiss Ælis" but the children are sometimes reluctant to kiss me (which I can understand). Nonetheless, the parents push the kids to kiss me which they ultimately end up doing. (For the parent it's important that the children kiss me because it's a sign of politeness.)

However, I'm uncomfortable with the fact that the children are force to kiss me when they clearly don't want to. So, sometimes, if I know the parents aren't watching, I just wave at the children and be done with it (so, no kissing).

Question

If the parents are still watching how can I tell them that it's okay if the child doesn't kiss me? And how can I do that in a way that they won't see me as an obstacle to their child education? And so that they won't insist further, making the situation even more uncomfortable?

What I already tried

Saying to the parents:

It's okay, Abby/Andrew doesn't need to kiss me.

But the parent insisted and the child ended up kissing me anyway.

Notes and clarifications

  • Culture is France where doing "la bise" is a social obligation (and much more so inside the family).

  • The kisses are done on the cheeks

16

I used to be an animator in holiday centers when I was a teenager, and it was fairly common to have kids who didn't want to kiss cheeks/hug when they arrived at the facility. At first I didn't say anything and the parents would force them to greet me in a socially acceptable way. The kids often ended up crying, and it was heartbreaking.

Two years after starting being an animator I came upon this kind of articles explaining why one shouldn't force a kid to show physical affection. Here is a bit explaining why in essence:

[...] teaching consent is just as important for a 3-year-old as it for a 13-year-old. It's never too early for kids to practice bodily autonomy [...] . "Affection should be freely given, which means it needs to be freely withheld," Clark adds. Cajoling a young child into giving frail Grandma Betty a kiss on the cheek may seem harmless, but, Clark explains, "There are many things being taught to a child when their bodily autonomy isn't taken into consideration. One message that gets internalized is 'your body is more important than your self.' As in, the affection or comfort your body gives matters more than how you feel about giving [it]."

Now, I never forced any kid to physically greet me, but I was as responsible as if I had because I let the parents reprimand them.

From then, I started greeting the kids differently. I became attentive to how they were showing me affection. If they ran at me arms wide open, I would hug them and potentially kiss them on the cheeks. If they were still and seemed shy, I would point a finger at them (like, "here's my star"!), wink at them, and say "Hi champ!". If they were smiling but didn't seem to want to hug, I would bend on my knees to be at their height and raise my hands so they can clap them.

The idea is to try to be open to how the kid seems to react to the social obligation of greeting you. If they don't seem like they want to be touched, adapt. If the parents try to object and force them to hug/kiss you, what I'd do (and what I've done all these years) is to say to the parents:

It's okay, they already greeted me

and I would start a game with the kid, like chasing them or hide and seek. It would usually stop the conversation.

If the parents insist - and they did sometimes, I would go with

Meh, I didn't feel like a hug today either.

If they still insist after that, I would then tell them about the articles. But it may seem as "I'm minding your business", and that's not my role to play, so I would use it only in such a case. I would of course do it in a gentle, non-neutral way - I won't tell them they're terrible parents for forcing their kids to hug. It just reinforces your position toward forced physical greeting. If they go on despite of this, well, there's not much you can do about it.

6

It's a very understandable and legitimate attitude we should always respect. Kids shouldn't be forced into hugs & kisses when they don't want to.

What I've always done with kids who don't like to greet you with a kiss is to "Air Kiss" from a couple of meters away. Wave at them, kiss your hand, and blow the kiss towards the children.

They can eventually do the same in response. And just in case the parents say something, you can tell them their kid just sent a kiss, and that it's very cute and nothing more's needed. I lived in France for more than 25 years, and this is the best way to deflect I've found so far. Even though it was years ago, it should still work nowadays. Kids will always be kids, like parents ;)

4

It is important that, while you should be defer to parents for a lot of the decision-making they make for their own children, this type of interaction is not determined by them. It's about you and the child. Since you are an adult, and still being safe with the child, this is a valuable learning experience for the child about autonomy and decision-making.

In my own experience working with kids, I have found that giving a child a choice is very effective. I like to say something like, "Hey, name! Do you want a kiss, a handshake, or a high-five?" and then regardless of their answer, I'll say, "Good choice!" and then follow through with that. If you set up the interaction in this way, you are setting the terms, which is just between you and the child, and the child gets to choose for themselves about what feels most comfortable.

This way, the parents can also see that, regardless of what is conventional, the child is still interacting with you in a way that is appropriate to both of you.

1

OP Here

Here is a solution I have tried with one of my cousins. I only tried it on them so I have no idea if this will work on other people too.

What I do

When it's time for the kid to kiss me here is what I do:

First, I put myself at the height of the child. This indicates to the child and everyone around that I'm talking to the child and, this way, I hope to reduce the risk that the parents will interrupt my exchange with the child. Also, I believe that this makes me less scary in the child's eyes (but I could be completely wrong here).

Then, I verbally greet the child before asking them:

Do you kiss me?

If the child communicates (verbally or non verbally) that they don't want to, I don't let the parent interrupt to force the child. What I do instead is asking:

Do you wave at me then?

I'm French, this might not be the correct translation.

My cousin child is usually okay to do so but, if not, that is when I let the parent step in and force the child to wave at me as a form of greeting. This way, the parents are "happy" because their child did greet me and I'm happy because the child wasn't forced to kiss me.

Note that I have noticed the parent to still be a bit annoyed by the fact that the child didn't kiss me. However, they didn't say anything while I was there. Also, I believe that if I do this each time, the parent will finish by getting used to it (and, in my case, it feel as this is starting to happen).

  • 4
    Additional to the "wave", you may want to try "high-five" or (maybe even better) a handshake. – virolino Mar 4 at 12:40

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